Revamping Africa’s education system for the COVID-19 generation of learners

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking an enormous toll on education systems. Even though most school systems have now reopened in Africa, impromptu closures to react to new infections disrupt the academic year. Here are recommendations to revamp African education systems for the COVID-19 generation of learners and the next ones.

February 05, 2021 by Yadicon Njie-Eribo, FAWE Gambia
4 minutes read
A teacher writes at the blackboard in a school in The Gambia. Credit: GPE/Jim Cham
A teacher writes at the blackboard in a school in The Gambia.
Credit: Credit: GPE/Jim Cham

This blog is part of a collaboration between the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and the Global Partnership for Education.

Africa, like the rest of the world, urgently awaits the provision of COVID-19 vaccines to her population. While it will take time for all Africans to get vaccinated, governments are keen to make the most vulnerable and high-risk populations the first recipients. They include health workers, older generations, and teachers, among others.

Almost a year since the continent’s first case of COVID-19, the far-reaching and colossal toll of the pandemic remains a nightmare for education systems. Schools are strained for resources in fulfilling the preventive regulations such as hand washing, wearing of masks and social distancing.

Even though most school systems have now reopened, impromptu closures to react to new infections have disrupted the progression of the academic year.

In The Gambia, the National Development Plan 2018-2021 by the Investment and Export Promotion Agency highlights that less than 4% of the population have internet access and only 40% of the population owns a television, while there are 8 community radio stations and one national radio station covering the whole country.

New technologies require smart phones, tablets and internet connection - all cost-prohibitive in the country. Consequently, the measures recommended to weather the pandemic remain inadequate to ensure quality education. This is also the case in many other African countries.

How to prepare for the next crisis

With the administration of several vaccines under way, we may slowly see the end of this pandemic, but there are fears that this was just a dress rehearsal, and other generalized infections and pandemics could follow. We must be prepared, and this is how to do it.

Schools, often seen as learning and feeding facilities for children, should adopt several aspects of COVID-19 precautionary measures into permanent best practices. These include the provision of hand washing and sanitation points throughout the school premises.

Also useful would be thermometer readings of students to screen children who may be sick. Class sizes should be reduced to obtain safe distances between students. If this brings about loss of accommodation because of student numbers, multiple class attendance shifts should be considered.

In preparation for future disruptions, whether from absence from class because of illness or an epidemic outbreak, governments, schools and parents should consider incorporating distance learning as an element of the educational curriculum.

Teachers also need to be equipped with modern technology skills both at pre-service and in-service training levels. This requires in class internet access, access to internet peripherals and electronic media like tablets and smart phones, and affordable access to internet connection for both teachers and learners.

One immediate provision is to include in the curriculum, age-appropriate training on the use of distance learning tools like internet connection and Zoom meetings, in order to reduce the steep learning curve for children and parents in the use of these media.

Most poor families are already struggling to put food on the table, let alone to buy items like a personal computer, tablet or smart phone for their children to be able to participate in learning. And we know that when faced with that difficult choice, education may not be on top, especially for girls.

Starting now to implement distance learning options for all

For governments to effectively conduct distance learning, they need to invest in fiber optic connectivity and to ensure that every household with a school-going child has access to some form of media. Solar energy has proven to be a low-cost booster of lighting and electronic charge. This can be done through private-public partnerships with technological companies.

Creating small study groups or small group classrooms where children can come together. Though this may not meet the social distancing rules by the health authorities during pandemics, the smaller groups may still allow to contain virus spread while giving children an opportunity to continue learning with their peers.

One option would be to provide a computer with a large screen, whereby 10 to 20 students can participate in learning while observing social distancing. It is important that these provisions are put in place now so that this and any other pandemic can be accommodated without any loss of school time, leading to learning loss. And to avoid denying any child the opportunity for an education, especially the girls and children with disabilities.

As we marked the International Education Day under the theme “Recover and revitalize education for the Covid-19 generation,” there is need to revisit and invent modalities of an education system that enhances inclusion, comprehension and relevance to the realities of the continent.

Putting an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and vocational training, especially for those that have been left out like the girls, the poor and the physically challenged, is another strategy for restoring and revitalizing education on the continent.

The review of the existing educational systems needs to take a more practical approach. Rather than restoring the systems to the way they were pre-pandemic, it’s time to improve them for greater relevance to the current demands and uncertainties of the local, regional and global economy.

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Online classes introduced during the pandemic period should be sustained in order to get prepared for any further unforseen circumstances

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